November 29, 2006

UNSCAM UPDATE: Claudia Rosett reports on an oil-for-food investigation done right:

For starters, the Cole inquiry has set a standard of clarity and transparency that the U.N. itself has yet to adopt — and shows no signs of doing so. The Cole commission conducted public hearings, and appears to have posted the vital underlying documents in full on the web. The interviews of the U.N.-authorized inquiry into Oil-for-Food, chaired by Paul Volcker, were all done in secret, with snippets released at the sole discretion of Volcker and his team. And although Volcker’s $35 million inquiry — the only investigation with full access to the U.N. itself — went to the trouble of amassing an archive of some 12 million pages, much of that digitally searchable, Volcker never released many of the vital underlying documents. He now appears poised to hand the trove back at the end of next month to the same U.N. where Annan’s former chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, spent months shredding executive office papers potentially relevant to the investigation.

The Cole report exemplifies why Volcker’s archives need to be delivered into the public domain — or at the very least, entrusted to authorities with a less glaring conflict of interest in handling any potentially damning information not yet disclosed. Cole’s findings, which in the AWB case go well beyond the Volcker report, are presented in a style so clear and direct that one might infer the investigators genuinely wish to communicate to the public the full extent of their discoveries. That’s quite a contrast with the reports released last year by Volcker’s committee.

Indeed. Plus there’s this: “Lest this seem a problem solely of the past, it bears noting that U.N. secrecy goes well beyond Oil-for-Food. Even now, the U.N. keeps secret many of the germane terms of its global business in procurement contracts, through which it spends billions of taxpayer dollars every year on everything from printer paper to peacekeeper rations. This secrecy paved the way for another U.N. scandal, the bribery saga still unfolding in the U.N. procurement division — in which one U.N. staffer pleaded guilty in 2005, in U.S. federal court, and two more have since been indicted (both have pleaded not guilty).”